Machine Made at the De Young Museum
There is nothing perfectly precise about a visit to Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art at the de Young Museum. “Machinery is the soul of the modern world,” declared the artist Francis Picabia in the early 20th century, and almost 100 years later, we’re still soul searching, castigating technology as we cling on for dear life.
The Precisionism movement was characterized by sharply defined lines and geometric forms, but the artists employing the style come from different angles, as demonstrated by painters like Georgia O’Keefe and Charles Sheeler. The 1920’s and 30’s awed with skyscrapers, automobile assembly lines and airplanes, eliciting pride, wonder, exhilaration, and suspicion. Look in the shadows of the pictures, your reflection in the chrome cocktail shaker. Look at the billboards touting iphone portraits and shudder at a too-close selfie.
The dramatic exhibit powers up with paintings of objects, followed by industrial, urban and rural landscapes, affirmed with clips from Charlie Chaplins’ "Modern Times," and a creamy-shiny Cord 812 Phaeton, the first American made and designed car with front wheel drive.
Proud and humble rectangular barns with gambrel roofs appear at the end of the show, cloudy dark skies hovering above. The last painting, Clarence Holbrook Carter’s “War Bride,” places the white veiled figure supplicant to the war machinery she is facing. Almost 100 years later, romance is guided by the algorithms of a dating app. What a piece of work is man.
Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art shows at San Francisco’s de Young Museum through August 12, 2018